Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taming feral cats: Is it really possible?

Franklin the feral cat huddles by the stairs
Franklin, close to the stairs, is making big progress, but still has far to go.
"Train your feral cat in just 2 weeks!" That's the title of a blog post I stumbled across this morning. Sadly, it's not the first one I've seen.

People who advocate feral training believe, deep down, that most feral cats simply adore people and want to live with them in close, tight-knit relationships. While I think it's admirable that people would want to work with feral cats, this theory of quick taming is basically just hokum, in my opinion.

A feral cat, like our Franklin, wasn't raised around humans. He fought for his food. The people he did come into contact with probably tried to remove him. Maybe they yelled at him. Maybe they kicked at him. Maybe he lived with a group of other cats that all scattered when people came around. It's hard to know (and he isn't telling) what happened, in detail, but it is clear that he is terrified of all people and that fear is deep set.

Over the last year I have spent time just sitting near Franklin. I talk to and pet the other outdoor cats, and he watches. Sometimes I hold my hands out and he smells them. One time, he did let me touch his foot before he pulled that foot away. He will hang out by the door and run away when I am a foot away. A year ago, he wouldn't even go by the door.

All of this is huge progress, but I reiterate that it's been a year in coming. Not 2 weeks. And if I pushed him into going faster, he might have lashed out to protect himself, and both of us would have been seriously injured. And I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to pet him, pick him up or cuddle him. The damage, in him, runs too deep. He doesn't want to be with people. He wants to be left alone.

That's not to say that feral cats don't need help, food and affection. They certainly do, and we should all do a better job of providing that. But people who choose to try to tame a feral so should know that it takes an incredibly long time. You can't force the issue.

And sadly, you should know that some feral cats simply can't be trained to love people. The damage they've experienced runs deep, and they've lost the ability to trust. They may never be tamed, no matter how hard one tries.

So, please. If you're writing posts about quick feral taming, just stop. Write about how to support a feral colony. Or better yet, volunteer with an organization that helps to trap, spay and release feral cats. But don't suggest that all cats can be tamed. Because it just isn't true.